UPDATE FRIDAY 8 APRIL
AN EVICTION NOTICE HAS BEEN SERVED ON THE OCCUPIERS OF THE CARNEGIE LIBRARY. THEY HAVE 24 HOURS TO LEAVE OR FACE ARREST. PLEASE SUPPORT THE DEMO TOMORROW. DETAILS AT THE END OF THIS POST.
When I was growing up, my parents couldn't afford to buy books but I was addicted to stories. I swept through the children's library, exhausting the stock well before I'd left primary school. A kind librarian agreed to allow me to enter the hallowed halls of the adult library, where the biggest excitement was that I could now borrow five books at a time, instead of a paltry three. It was during my teenage years that I ploughed through almost all the books on the lists of 'classics you should read' that come out every so often. I worked through biographies, as well as novels, discovering the likes of Tolstoy, Kafka, Hesse, Austen, de Beauvoir and many more. Genre was meaningless to me: strong stories were what I was after. It was on the shelves of the library that I discovered that stories could take many forms.
In secondary school, I discovered a new use for the library and was there almost every day in the study room, revising for exams. Once I had my children, I was once again in my local library several times a week, pulling books from the shelves and attending reading sessions and after-school clubs. As an author, I've read at many events organised in libraries, connecting readers with writers. The staff were invariably warm and welcoming. One heard that the day I was appearing in their library was also my birthday - and baked me a cake!
When my father was in his nineties, and before he moved to a care home, I would often go over and find he wasn't at home. Needless to say, my initial response was always a stab of anxiety. My first port of call was to check his library, just a few doors away from his flat. And nine times out of ten, there he would be, sitting in an armchair, chatting to other people, or reading a newspaper or books pulled from the shelves.
As a member of the East Dulwich Writers' Group, I was part of an event at the glorious Carnegie Library in Herne Hill in June 2011. We read in the gardens on a beautiful summer's evening and it was clear to us all that this was a perfect example of a library that was deeply rooted in the community. Libraries like the Carnegie operate as community hubs, offering so much more than book loans, though Gawd knows that would be enough.
And now the local council has decided to close the library and re-open it a year or so later as a fee-paying gym, with a single room with books, but no librarian.
On 1 April (the council has no sense of irony) the library was officially to close but a group of about 80 people, including some families, occupied the building.
The council has since served them with an injunction - which they're determined to ignore.
It's worth remembering these words from Andrew Carnegie: 'A library outranks any other one thing a
community can do to benefit its people. It is a spring in the desert.'
In other words, the library belongs to the community, the people. It's not the Council's to take away.
The campaign website is here. Lots more info on Brixton Buzz. If you're on Twitter, there are numerous accounts to follow but this is the one for seeing tweets from those inside the building. There's also a Facebook page. And, finally, this is a map of the location of the library. If you live locally, why not pop along. They have no cooking facilities so gifts of food are welcomed. After snipey tweets from Labour councilors in response to a photo of the occupiers drinking wine, loads of people turned up the next day - bearing gifts of wine. This is community activism at its best.
In case you're still wondering if libraries are about much more than 'just' borrowing books, have a look at the list of events which will not take place if the closure goes ahead.
Please don't let this happen:
Hope to see lots of you there on Saturday.